South Africa: Riots, Consumerism & The Rainbow Nation Illusion
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The recent Riots and looting in South Africa following the arrest of Former South African President Jacob Zuma have disturbed the entire African Continent and the world at large as South Africa spontaneously combusts under the weight of what at first glance appears to be a Political scandal couched as a rare triumph of Justice in modern Africa where a disgraced Founding Father of a Post-Colonial African State has finally faced the consequences of abusing Political Office.
Whilst this may be an aspect of this story, another equally important element is the failure of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation to uplift people from all Strata of South African Society.
Instead of addressing the Socio-Economic needs of the historically disadvantaged, since South Africa became Independent in 1994 it has come to rely on a curious but very potent cocktail of Mass Propaganda in the form of Consumer Advertising which has sought to promote the idea of a Middle Class that is accessible to every hardworking South African.
In this respect, South Africa may provide a modern study in the use of advanced Mass Propaganda in the context of the Contemporary Post-Colonial African State.
What Is A Nation?- The Nation As An Imagined Community
An ‘Imagined Community’ is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson to analyze Nationalism. Anderson depicts a ‘Nation’ as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.
A Nation is therefore at its core primarily about a perceived State of shared Common Consciousness.
South Africa as a Rainbow Nation can be considered as the kind of Imagined Community Anderson contemplated.
Handed the unenviable task of healing the fissures created by a ruthless Apartheid State, Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation was a gallant response to the challenges faced by a young Post-Independence South Africa.
More than 20 years later however, the Rainbow Nation’s score card is low in critical Socio-Economic areas while an increase in Corruption and a global Economic decline have all put stress on the Rainbow Nation as an Imagined Community.
South African Consumer Advertising As Propaganda
From NAZI films like Triumph Of The Will, to America’s 1950s Consumer Advertising Revolution, Mass Media has been used by Governments to propagate and entrench the desired National Ethos within the Imagined Community through the overt or subliminal messages in Films and Advertising since World War 1.
In the case of South Africa, Middle-Class targeted advertising promoting everything from Cars to Fast Foods have sustained the idea of an all Inclusive Rainbow Nation.
There appears to be a concerted effort to sweep disappointments in Transformation, Governance and the Economy under the rug through a continuous barrage of Rainbow Nation lifestyle adverts.
Whether Consciously or Unconsciously, South African Consumer Advertising has become the Propaganda by which the Rainbow Nation illusion was streamed.
Indeed, regardless of their real situation people in South Africa can for brief moments live inside the Rainbow Nation during the course of an advert only to be brought back to their actual Reality when the advert is over. The barrage of adverts ensures that people are continually Teleported into the Rainbow Nation despite their exclusion in real Space and Time.
It literally requires more Advertisements to insert the Viewers into yet another Rainbow Nation Experience.
The Rainbow Nation’s Future: From Propaganda To Violence
As it has become clearer that the outcome of the struggle against Apartheid was to benefit a minority Black Elite who mistook the admission of Black people into Middle Class Consumer Society as Liberation, the current wave of South African Consumer Propaganda is now failing to mitigate the Social challenges and Economic distress of the majority of the population.
The recent wave of Riots and looting following the imprisonment of Former South African President Jacob Zuma shows that Zuma’s arrest has triggered a festering wound that can no longer be safely dressed in the bandages of Rainbow Nation Consumerist Aspirational Propaganda because the lifestyle it portrays is simply not within the reach of the majority.
We may be in a situation where the Masses have now been awakened to and are now willing to act on this realisation regardless of the immediate consequences.
Socio-Eonomic disparities in South Africa have become so pronounced that the people may have seen that there is simply no way that they are going to be the guy or girl buying the new Car or TV in the Ad.
We may be witnessing the collapse of South Africa as a collective Imagined Community bound together by the Rainbow Nation on a steady diet of aspirational Propaganda which may have now become stale.
The lessons to be learnt from the South African experience can be useful in understanding the Propaganda techniques employed by other Post-Colonial African States and in the world at large as we await the future outcome once the lie of Consumerist Propaganda on a Global scale is revealed.
In A History Of Advertising, the Propaganda role of Consumer Advertising beginning in 1950s America is explored.